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Desmond Are Tokyo

Hipsters Love Irony

by Sean Magner / 15.08.2011

Desmond Are Tokyo – a documentary of Desmond and the Tutus’ 2010 Japanese tour shot and produced by Andrew Berry of We-Are-Awesome – is a project that reeks of potential unfulfilled. The Tutus’ kwela-jive being mixed and juxtaposed with unique Japanese quirk seems like such a perfect pairing. I love Desmond quite dearly and I don’t have too much of a problem with We-Are-Awesome, either. But this one fell way short of the mark.

Desmond-Are-Tokyo. Teaser. from we-are-awesome on Vimeo.

As the trailer above suggests, the documentary is, at first glance, packed with as much vibrancy as the music in the background but a jumbled thirty minuter later it leaves you feeling somewhat short-changed, as if a major opportunity has been missed.

I always get a feeling of apprehension when approaching the Labia Theatre. The judging eyes seem to pierce even the most vintage of jackets. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t born and bred in Cape Town, or perhaps I’m just a little too self-conscious. I was expecting a party upon arrival; alas the droves were already headed for those shitty seats.
Entering the Batcave that is the main theatre, the smell of day-old popcorn and new Adidas threads wafted about. Nic, the Tutus’ bassist, thanked us all for coming. The audience seemed to giggle in reverie of the charm that the band seems to evoke. With that, the lights went down and the documentary began.

Desmond Are Tokyo was shot in a fairly rudimentary way. Granted the Tutus are a lo-fi bunch, the cheap and cheerfulness of the production echoes some of the same sentiments as their music. In the bits of the film where the band ramble and riff on each other it’s not far off of a Vince Noir and Howard Moon Dialogue from The Mighty Boosh, it’s effective – but sadly, the punch-lines were often flaccid as a direct result of the bad sound. An attempt was made to include subtitles, but the harshness of the background noise was far too distracting to focus on anything else.

Desmond Are Tokyo

As it progressed, I began to wonder if the rest of the audience was struggling with the intense mind-fuck the narrative presented. Although I knew the story, there was no introduction to lead the audience in. The simple progression from Tokyo, to Osaka, to Fukuoka, to Kyoto. Berry seems to assume too much on behalf of his audience and I was lost as to where on earth we were being taken and why. Add to this the almost constant repetition of scenes.

To his credit, Berry’s eye is present in some of the establishing shots, clean, angular and precise, much like his photos. However, once the camera starts moving it begins to look amateur and shoddy. A tri-pod would’ve gone a long way.

The live footage, which one could argue was the whole purpose of the documentary, was poor. Desmond’s energetic performances were reduced to anaemic convulsions. The sound quality reminded me of that common drunken impulse: “let me film this on my cellphone”.
When I woke up the next morning I wondered why I had even bothered.

As the documentary ended a tangible WTF moment rippled through the audience. An opportunity for both the band and Berry to create something that could both define and showcase the Tutus was lost. The disappointment was apparent – personified by the audience’s stifled applause and faint laughter. Sadly this documentary couldn’t be written off as an attempt at irony.

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